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Art Letter (02/23/06)

I saw three shows opening tonight that knocked my socks off. Two by artists whose work Iíve known for a long time and whose current work is showing significant, solid, damned near breakthrough growth and one artist whose work Iím just learning about even if he himself is no newcomer.

I first included Diana Guerrero-MaciŠís diminutive, sewn fabric collages in a survey exhibit in 1996 and then forgot about her for a while. By 2001 her collages and fabric assemblages had become quite large interpretations of vinyl record covers where sheíd reproduce, in fabric, some of the words and implied meaning of near-contemporary albums. And now she is predominately working in a four by four foot format, playing with some of the lyrics of rather well known bands.  This new body of work opening tonight at
Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery is one of the best shows Iíve seen anywhere in a really long time. Considered and considerate, the pieces are magnificently strong all by themselves and together form a forceful, balanced, confident ďlyricalĒ tour de force.

Iím not sure when Richard Hullís work began to change. I think I first noticed about a year ago that his pieces were getting more organic - bug like, instead of the houses that resembled stage sets. I respected the old stuff, but it was feeling tired and kind of safe.  The new work on exhibit at Carrie Secrist Gallery comes across with a lot more feeling, more playful, more experimental and resultantly much more engaging.  These images are complex. The bug-like forms still exist to some extent - in the exterior edges. These newest pieces are compartmentalized like his way earlier work, albeit in a more organic, intuitive thoughtful way. Richard has been making solid art for as long as I can remember and Chicago is a large enough place that you can readily know someoneís work and never meet its maker. so that when I finally met Richard last year I was surprised to find out that he is relatively young - well under 50, instead of someone who I thoughtíd be much more ďmatureĒ because Iíd been seeing his work for so long.  I guess the point is that Richard Hull is a major player on the Chicago art scene, well deserving of national and international attention, who is making the best work he ever has and is certainly going to continuing to do so.  This is a guy to be proud of, someone to pay attention to, someone whose work is unique, powerful yet subtle, and whose art reflects a lot of what goes on here in a subconscious, ready to be deciphered, kind of way.

A few days ago, I went to Philadelphia for the day, just to see the awesome Chicago based exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts. The show has a long and impressive title, but could just be called Chicago 1912 to 1985. Iíll discuss this show in a moment, but one of the most impressive works in the show was from right after World War II by a Chicagoan named Robert Amft.

Robert Amft is alive today. He still paints about a painting a week and one of the very best galleries in Chicago, Corbett vs. Dempsey is opening a show tonight of Robert Amft paintings from the 1940ís and 1950ís. These paintings are direct, didactic, competent, sincere and meaningful.

What has to be placed in context is that Chicago has an art history all its own; that just like today, artists 50-60 years ago knew all about  art being made in the rest of the world (New York included) but had a stubborn confidence all their own that enabled them to make their own brand of rock-solid art.

You can see and sense this uniqueness, confidence and strength in the older pieces of Robert Amftís. There are pieces from the late 40ís that look like Roger Brown cast an eye on them decades later and developed his own style based on what Amft had already done, or others that suggest the strength further developed by Philip Guston.  Amft is finally getting the recognition and money he has long deserved.  And this is because of the passion of John Corbett and Jim Dempsey.

This who thing is exciting.  The gallery opened 2 years ago as a fulfillment of their passion for Chicago art from the 40ís to the 70ís and Corbett and Dempsey  are making a huge difference, for history, for Chicago, for vintage artists whose reprise renews interest in their art.  It is wonderful for me to go look at art that is decades old and be able to draw a line from then through the Hairy Who to the contemporary art of today. If you have been to Corbett vs. Dempsey you know the passion and the pleasure of which I speak, and if you havenít you have a treat in store and tonight is a great time to bask in the quality they represent.

Which leads me to Philadelphia and Art in Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism. Curated by Robert Cozzolino, this is the best show of Chicago art Iíve ever seen, drawing a line from a century ago up to the modern era.  This exhibit reveals the continuity of vision, purpose and mindset that has been unique to Chicago artists for over 100 years.  It is a great opportunity for Chicago artists today to look back and see the bonds, the friendships and the evolution of style their predecessors had, how figuration took hold, how more often than not we led, not followed and how invariably Chicagoís artists stood tall on their own two feet and made art that was informed and at the same time, theirs.

Thereís an article on the show in the Sun-Times this week that points out that this show has a strong and broad appeal in part because ďone of the unique characteristics of Chicago is thereís always been a very pronounced effort not to be derivative, to not follow the status quo,Ē Cozzolino said.  They insisted on following their own vision.Ē

This is a simply wonderful show. Iíd like to see it in Chicago.

Thanks for being here,

 

Paul Klein